In three years, DSU's Tauave went from bingo hall ticket vendor to NSAA Defensive MVP
On Oct. 22, Dickinson State football wrapped up its home schedule with a win against Dakota State. It was the last regular season contest at the Biesiot Activities Center, and for the seniors, their last ever game at the BAC. Once most had cleare...
On Oct. 22, Dickinson State football wrapped up its home schedule with a win against Dakota State.
It was the last regular season contest at the Biesiot Activities Center, and for the seniors, their last ever game at the BAC.
Once most had cleared out, senior defensive end Noey Tauave ambled over to the midfield logo, and spent a brief, quiet moment there by himself.
"I was just thinking about my last time ever playing on the field that saved my life. I became a better person there. The best things I've learned, I've learned right there," he said. "I was sad, but at the same time all good things have to come to an end."
The fact that Tauave even found his way to Dickinson State and North Dakota at all was, in his eyes, a small miracle.
The soft-spoken and unassuming Tauave was born and raised in American Samoa - a small island closer to New Zealand than any shore of the United States. He didn't come to the U.S. mainland for good until 2010, when he and a portion of his family landed in California.
He grew up speaking mostly Samoan with a little bit of English mixed in, and his high school years were split between Tacoma, Wash., where a family member lived, and his hometown, Oneoneloa.
The move to California was to play football. Initially, he was recruited by Allan Hancock College, a junior college in Santa Maria, Calf., but that didn't work out because of a paperwork miscommunication, so he went north to Sacramento where he had other family. Soon after, he enrolled and played his JuCo football at nearby American River College.
Two years passed there, then, for the spring semester of 2013, he made his way to Southern Oregon University to join its team. It was a proud accomplishment and an important moment in his life - family members waved and kissed him goodbye.
The only problem was, he was back a few months later. He ran "into a little trouble"; that's the way Tauave, 26, described it, and he didn't make it past the first semester.
"Man, I was pretty disappointed in myself. My mom got to come watch me leave for school, then she watched me come back home from school," said Tauave, who, a few years later, laughed at the dark humor of the situation. "It didn't work so well. It was frustrating."
So he unceremoniously went home and began to go about his life.
He got a job selling tickets at a bingo hall. He did that for a while, taking in crumpled $1s and $5s in exchange for little punch tickets. It wasn't much, but it wasn't much of an option, either. A college football career at that point seemed unrealistic.
But around the start of the 2014-2015 college football season, his miracle happened.
The Dickinson State coaching staff was interested in Sefa Fatu, a close friend to Tauave who attended the same JuCo and graduated from DSU last year.
Jokingly, Tauave asked his friend if he could send his own JuCo tapes over to DSU. He wasn't doing much outside of his bingo hall shifts, and was more than likely waiting to get into trouble, he said.
Fatu took him seriously, though, and did what a good friend would do - sent along the tapes.
"He's like my brother," said Tauave of Fatu. "He actually did it, and they reached out to me right away, like the next day."
In those days, which were mostly spent doing not a whole lot of anything, Tauave was becoming less and less productive. He was, as head coach Pete Stanton put it, in need of a direction. In Dickinson, North Dakota, the American Samoan living in Sacramento found it.
"We didn't know anything about him. We watched him on film and that was about it. We saw how hard he played. He'd been out for a couple of years and he was really unsure of himself and what he was going to do," Stanton said. "The situation was a little out of the ordinary, because he's a little older. But Sefa just said, 'Hey, I've got a real good friend of mine that's looking for a place, his name is Noey Tauave,' so we had Noey along and the rest is history."
He came to Dickinson that first year via a three-day bus ride. He missed his plane.
"It was horrible," he said. "But at the same time I was so excited that it didn't bother me."
The culture shock was definitely there, but he arrived a determined man, having just promised his family he wasn't going to mess up a second chance.
He redshirted his first year because of a lack of credits regarding his eligibility status, but returned to the field in 2015 for the first time since 2012, and immediately became the "stamp of the defense," said Stanton.
Last year, he was honored with first-team all-Conference honors alongside his friend Fatu. When he arrived this year, it was no different. He finished the season with 77 total tackles, and a team-leading five sacks and 17 tackles for a loss, and last Friday was voted the North Star Athletic Association Defensive MVP. He had a knack for making plays; to name one, when he dropped a Montana Tech running back for a crucial loss late in the fourth quarter of last weekend's playoff game.
The Blue Hawks would go on to lose the game, but Tauave, alongside his defense, never stopped fighting.
"The thing that stands out the most is just his passion. He's just so passionate about playing," said the coach. "He wanted to do so well, and was so thankful that he was able to play here."
"Lord willing," laughed Tauave, he is scheduled to graduate in the fall of 2017. Life has come at him fast since his move to America, but since his gap between football, it's been all good memories.
"Once I got that phone call, it changed everything. It made me think about everything that I ever wanted to accomplish," he said. "It was a second shot at life."
Other NSAA stars
Tauave was one of five players from DSU to be named to the NSAA all-conference first team this year; linebackers Drew Johnson and Tommy Sease and defensive backs Rob Sterling and Cain Boschee the other four.
Boschee was tied for most interceptions in the NAIA (nine) and finished in sole possession of most touchdown returns (four). Sterling was an all-conference pick two seasons ago as a sophomore, then last season converted to quarterback when Kaler Ray broke his collarbone.
With his only concentration on the cornerback position this season, Sterling regained his status and collected seven interceptions, tied for fifth in the nation.
"It was just a great year for Rob, where last year we asked him to do a lot with playing quarterback. He had to go back and forth and that was tough on him," Stanton said. "This year he got to settle in and just play that position. He was outstanding. I consider him not only one of the best in the conference but one of the better ones in the country. Cain as well."
Fellow defensive back Jay Liggins was named to the second-team, along with defensive end Hunter Moore.
On the offensive side, the Blue Hawks scored three first team selections; running back Jed Fike and linemen Jeff Fisher and Deon Paulson.
Those three, noted Stanton, were a testament to the Blue Hawks' run game this year.
"(Jed) really came on well. We knew he was that type of player. That showed in the playoff game, too," Stanton said. "With Tray out, Jed stepped in and was admirable all year long."
Wide receiver Austin Brown and lineman Kordell Cummins were second-team selections. On special teams, kicker Cody Johnson and returner Dylan Skabo were both named to the all-conference first-team.